ADVENTURES OF A PROFESSIONAL CORPSE
by H. BEDFORD-JONES
published by Altus Press
$11.95 paperback (postpaid in US—-also available in hardcover)
stories originally published in 1940-1941
Altus Press, one of my favorite small presses dedicated to quality reprints of classic magazine fiction of the first half of the 20th century, has devoted an entire series (which is ongoing) to the works of prolific Canadian-American author H. BEDFORD-JONES. Bedford-Jones (1887-1949), who was the master of any number of fiction genres (and also worked in journalism and poetry), created fascinating plots that pulled the reader in, selected just enough details to suggest a setting without getting bogged down in description, used dialogue to develop character but did not (at least in the pieces I’ve read) write dialogue-heavy stories and novels, and kept things moving. No wonder that he was so popular in his day, and his name appeared often on the covers of the magazines in which he appeared (though, like many very prolific authors, he also used a number of pseudonyms). His published works supposedly amount to 25 million words!
This particular book should win over a number of readers to Bedford-Jones’ work. It consists of four 20-page stories originally published in WEIRD TALES in 1940 and 1941, featuring the character of James F. Bronson, a man who (I won’t give away how he does it—-you need to read it for yourself—-I’ll just say that it’s convincing, in the manner of outrageous scientific explanations found in pulp fiction stories) is able to fake death. Yes, he is able to produce in his body conditions that will fool most doctors into believing he is dead, and he uses this ability (with the assistance of a doctor sidekick, who appears on the scene at just the right time in each story, although he is in on everything from the beginning) to make money by making himself available to those who require a corpse. He will not doing anything illegal (so he says), but his fee IS large and he winds up helping people in need. It may be fraud and deception, but it’s well-meaning fraud and deception.
Bronson himself is the narrator of the stories, and his way of confiding in the reader creates a kind of bond with us. These stories are the perfect length for escapist reading at the end of a long work-day and their appeal is similar to an hour-long Charlie Chan or Boston Blackie B-movie. The supporting characters in each story are well-drawn and realistic (and in some cases, quite sympathetic), there’s no wasted scenes or filler, and even a busy person can read a story in one sitting. This is imaginative mystery (as in mysterious, not as in murder mystery) writing at its best.
If you enjoy mystery fiction and this concept sounds intriguing, then you should pick this up. It’s only $11.95 for the paperback, and it’s postpaid in the USA. You can order it here:
I’ve already read a few other volumes in Altus Press’ H. BEDFORD-JONES LIBRARY, and I look forward to further volumes. Who needs the internet when you can sit on your porch, enjoy the breeze, sip on an iced tea or a beer, and tag along with James F. Bronson, the Professional Corpse, as he fakes death for adventure and profit.